If you want to foster a rich, rewarding community experience for folks then you probably want a community that's as welcoming and diverse as possible. Diversity of age, experience, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender, neurodiversity (the list goes on) — opening your community to a wide array of folks creates a more meaningful and inclusive experience for everyone. But a lot of communities are grounded in unconscious “centering:” designing the experience for folks of a certain class, gender, ethnicity, etc. So how do we ensure that our communities are as inclusive and diverse as possible? How do we know that we're doing the (ongoing) work of creating more welcoming communities for as many folks as possible?
Today's guest has quite a lot to say about all that. Daniel Oppong is the founder of The Courage Collective, a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion consultancy. He just led us folks at Team SPI through four sessions on that very subject, and we love The Courage Collective's approach. We're getting deep in the weeds with Daniel today so that we can all learn how to do the work: how to take the next few crucial steps towards un-centering our communities, learning and unlearning, and embracing the tension inherent in communities. This is probably one of the most powerful and critical episodes we've done so far on the show — we can't recommend it enough!
Originally from the Dallas area, Daniel has been in Nashville since 2015, where he moved after earning a Master's degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University. Daniel is the founder of The Courage Collective, a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultancy, and is also the Founder of OhanaHealth, a platform that makes it easier for high-growth health tech companies and early career candidates to find each other. His background also includes work in Venture Capital, Entrepreneurship, Tech, Consulting, Education, and the Non-Profit Sector.
In This Episode:
- Daniel's circuitous route to founding The Courage Collective
- Why DEI work needs to be much more holistic than how most companies approach it
- Optionality and The Great Resignation
- The community of work culture
- The power of shared values expressed differently
- What “centering” is and how it shows up in community
- Learning and unlearning as integral to the human experience
- The debilitating effect of shame and judgement on DEI work
- The power of curiosity in managing communities
- Setting intentions, boundaries, and tone in communities
- The inherent tension in communities (it's okay that every one isn't for everyone)
- The slippery slope of “kumbaya-type” communities
- Sylvia Duckworth's Wheel of Power/Privilege illustration (Instagram)
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith
- Think Again by Adam Grant
The CX 013: Building More Inclusive Communities with Daniel Oppong
Jillian Benbow: Community is great, but a community that embraces diversity can be something else altogether. In this conversation with Daniel Oppong of The Courage Collective, you'll learn what centering is and how you can make the experience welcoming to a wider array of folks from different walks of life today on the Community Experience.
All right. Welcome to the Community Experience with myself, Jillian Benbow and my partner in crime, Tony Bacigalupo. Hey, Tony.
Tony Bacigalupo: Hey, hey! Hello hello.
Jillian: We have a super exciting, as always, episode today. We are talking to Daniel Oppong of The Courage Collective. We've had a lot of fun talking to Daniel both as a team for a DEI training but also this podcast. I can't wait to talk to him more about just the ways to incorporate DEI in community.
Tony: Yeah, it's incredible. The training that The Courage Collective has provided team SPI has been so hugely educational, so valuable. Also knowing that everybody else on the team is learning the same stuff at the same time just creates such a great opportunity for conversation and for working towards making progress as an organization. I'm really grateful for it.
Jillian: Yeah. It's been so interesting, especially we're all on our own journeys with all things DEI with anti-racism, whatever it might be. But because we have this opportunity as a company to have these lead trainings, but then really see where, you know, meet each other where we are and have very vulnerable conversations about it, I've learned so much about just how other people... We're all learning. I learn something new every day. I got to check my privilege all the time and I'm more than happy to.
Tony: And then when you're able to make adjustments so that what you are doing as a community leader is more welcoming to a wider range of folks, you're going to be attracting more people. You're going to be creating a more vibrant community and a more vibrant event. That is just going to be good for everybody. It's just the right thing to do too. Daniel's got some great tips for you on all of those fronts. We'll also be learning about the wheel of power/privilege which is —
Jillian: Tony's favorite thing.
Tony: One of the most powerful images I've seen in a really long time. We'll get into that and so much more.
All right. Let's talk to Daniel Oppong of The Courage Collective on the Community Experience.
Jillian: All right. Welcome back. I am so excited for our guest today. Tony, are you as excited as I am?
Tony: I am so excited. This is one of those conversations where before we even hit the record button, we already just kind of dove right in. I'm glad that we're able to capture things from here on out. Absolutely.
Jillian: Well, without further ado, today we are talking to Daniel Oppong. Daniel, welcome to the show.
Daniel Oppong: Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here with you and Tony today.
Jillian: Yeah, we are just delighted. I think, why don't we start off? Why don't you give us your story? How did you get into doing DEI work and how did The Courage Collective start? Tell us how it all began.
Daniel: Great question. Super broad. I mean, I won't go all the way to birth, but one thing that is interesting is I'm the son of immigrant parents. My parents are from Ghana, West Africa. That informs a lot of the way I show up in the world and in DEI work, right, because my parents grew up in African culture but then raised my siblings and I in American culture. Just kind of being a third-culture kid where I didn't totally relate to fully either culture. That's where I think about my own story where it begins.
I went to school in Texas. I grew up in the Dallas area. Went to Abilene Christian to play football originally. Had a couple of knee injuries which was a bummer. It kind of set me on this path to just find myself.
I did nonprofit work first. I did a mentoring program for college students. Went to grad school at Gonzaga after a little while, studied organizational leadership. Then I moved to Nashville in 2015 and I worked at a venture capital fund called Jumpstart Foundry. Part of that experience was super interesting, right? Even as we think about DEI work. I worked at a company that was a venture capital fund that invested in health tech companies. Mind you, I had never worked in venture, never worked in healthcare, never worked in tech. On paper, I had literally no business getting the job, but they took a risk on me, which kind of changed the trajectory of my career. I did that for a few years, I was talent director there. People, growth, and strategy across all of our businesses, worked with portfolio companies, et cetera, learned a lot about business.
Then I went to work in tech at this employee experience company. I started at another company before that focused on early career candidates, helping them find jobs. Went to work in tech. I think last year was particularly illuminating for a lot of us when I'm sitting here at this tech company and just the reality of 2020, the global pandemic, which we're still processing and grappling with the murder of George Floyd. I'm in this tech company and waiting for some type of response. I was one of a few black folks in my organization and it just was pretty quiet. And so I wrote a letter to our CEO and chief people officer to try to galvanize the action. Part of what I thought about is like, if I'm waiting for change to come from people who may not share the same experience as me, I might be waiting a while.
So I just need to create the change that I'm desiring. That led to The Courage Collective. Another thing I'll say is like, when I looked at the public conversation around DEI, first of all, let's just acknowledge we live in a very polarized society where things are pretty binary and split. I'm like, I want to have a conversation that centers on courage and empathy and create a DEI brand or approach that highlights those two things. That was the genesis of Courage Collective. Actually, tomorrow is the one year since we did our first learning series session. Since then we've worked with 15 companies, done 75 sessions. It's been pretty meaningful. SPI has been a fun part of the journey. Really enjoying working with you all as well. That's kind of in a snapshot or in a nutshell what got us here.
Jillian: That's amazing. You have just a wonderful team. For everyone listening, we get on these calls and Daniel has several teammates and they all take different parts of the training and usually have relevant experience to talk about. With it, how did you find all of these people?
Daniel: I mean, it's a funny question.
Jillian: Or how did they find you?
Daniel: Yeah, I think part of my magic in life is I just collect my favorite people. I think one of the things that I've said for myself as far as what I want professionally and out of my career is like, I want to create a life I love and I want to build things I believe in with people I enjoy. If I do both of those things, then I’ll have lived a good life. With Courage Collective, I can look back and think about all the different folks that are part of it. Some of them I met professionally. One of them is my sister and then her old roommate. Then some people I met at my last tech company, and then just people that I've connected with along the way.
But I think that the through line is everyone is committed to the process of growth and evolution, self-reflection, trying to think about how we're showing up in the world and doing some more intentionally. We actually got together not too long ago for my birthday weekend and just so nice to share space with people who are on a similar frequency, who care a lot about the world, who care a lot about having an impact and making positive change. Just a really great group. I mean, I think I'm probably a bit biased, but some of my favorite people I get to work with. So.
Jillian: That's awesome. I mean, I have FOMO. I'm like, I want to hang out with people.
Daniel: You can come next time if you want. You're invited.
Jillian: I'll just invite myself.
Daniel: There you go.
Jillian: I'll bring something, whatever. Yeah. That's great. DEI, I feel like it's in buzzword territory at this point. It's super important and I don't want to discount that or cheapen the term at all. I also think a lot of people, it can be performative in many ways. Whether it's companies or whatnot, it's like, oh yeah, we care about DEI. Look, we updated our mission statement, and then that's about it. Right?
It's really interesting to be on a team right now where professionally we're going through the training you've created and we're also having discussions. It's very important to us as a company and individually. It's really fantastic to see the conversations coming out of it. What are your thoughts about the other companies out there or groups that are doing the performative side? Where they are saying, oh yeah, look at us, we did this, but they're not actually implementing. For anybody listening that might be in that situation, what can they do to make it more real?
Daniel: Look, I mean, DEI is a multi million or billion dollar industry, right? I think about the reality of what it is versus what is the impact, right. I think last year, one of the things that we did see is a lot of companies trying to get into the space and figure out how can we have a point of view that's not controversial but also inclusive. They would share these things that are like unintelligible. Like, are you talking about a natural disaster? Are you talking about human experience? Right? I think for me, when I look at the ways in which companies engage and what aligns and hits the mark versus maybe what doesn't, I think there are a couple of things that I would say. Most companies often focus on talent acquisition or training as the baseline for their DEI work.
I think while those things have value, it's just the tip of the iceberg, right? I think that the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is much more holistic. And so we want to think about pre-employment, during employment, post-employment like every single one of those phases of the employee journey is relevant to DEI work. Then I think there's some companies who want to do it maybe more for optics. You know, they'll post a thing but then if you were to ask the underrepresented identity groups, how do you experience work at this organization? Do you even like it there? Do they like you there? I think that would be a different conversation. There's the external versus the internal. I think the internal and even kind of sustainability as far as that work goes, so much more important.
I think the last thing I'd say is because it is a space where companies will try and maybe put a tiny bit of resources behind it and be like, well, we tried but it didn't work. I'm like, okay, what do you do just once that actually has efficacy and effectiveness? And are you bringing in the experts to help guide and facilitate that discussion? You've seen some companies who will throw barely any resources, they'll do one unconscious bias training and be like, well, DEI didn't work at our company and people didn't like it. Okay. Well, let's think about a more holistic and robust strategy. That's probably what I would recommend for staying power. But again, I think some companies, like you said, would rather do it for optics than actual impact and transformation.
Jillian: Yeah. It'll be interesting to see as time goes on, the churn, the retention in those companies. Sometimes you just got to work where you got to work. Right? It's a survival thing, but I'm hopeful that over time, the companies that actually care and are authentically trying, as what you are alluding to a little bit, but like actually talking to their employees about their experience and how it can be better. Hopefully the companies vested in that will attract the talent that aligns as well and vice versa. The companies that maybe aren't —
Daniel: Yeah. I mean, it's an interesting point because if we think about right now, the great resignation, right? Like you think about how many people are leaving their jobs. I think there's a recognition, people are recognizing their power and optionality. We spend between 90,000 to 100,000 hours of our lives at work. That's a really long time, right? If you think about that, am I giving my energy? If I'm an employee, am I giving my energy to a place that's also giving me energy, showing me care and support? Right? If the answer is no, I think what we're seeing, especially through the pandemic and the reality, everything that we're living through right now, like, I have a choice. I don't have to work at a place that doesn't value what I bring to the table or who I am. Especially if I'm part of an underrepresented group, companies are in a way clamoring for that type of talent. I think that there's an interesting inflection and opportunity point. To your earlier point, we'll see what the retention looks like, but there's certainly some optionality that's happening right now.
Jillian: Well then, back to your point, it's like ping pong.
Daniel: Well, let's do it.
Jillian: Play ping pong. Back to your point of the great resignation, I mean, we do live in a time that's like you have a lot of agency and support if you want it, to go out on your own and to build what you want to see in the world. That to me, and I think the pandemic has really helped accelerate this idea that we all knew we were disposable in the big companies and whatnot. We know, but it became quite apparent and we had the opportunity and so many people took it and are creating things that are for people like them that maybe don't have that representation. We just interviewed a wonderful woman, Kelly, who runs the Badass Lady Gang. It's a running club for people who don't identify as runners. She found a way to say, you know what, running, this should be fun first and fitness second. That's what works for me. She has this whole community. I think that could be played out in professional realms as well. I mean, obviously it's her job, it's her whole thing. But she can create a company that's on her terms.
Let's shift to, because I think work culture is very much a community. Sometimes it's community you don't want to be in but you have to be. But our work in community building and community leadership and advocacy, I think there's a huge opportunity for us to have DEI in the forefront of our minds as we're creating these communities and creating very inclusive and safe community. I'm curious your thoughts on, as a community builder, what are things we should be thinking about that maybe we don't realize?
Daniel: Yeah. Great question. At The Courage Collective, we use a quote often by this woman, Dr. Crystal Jones. She says that, "There's a big difference between the ideas all are welcome here and this was created with you in mind." The latter of which is much more impactful and resonant. Right? I think about that difference. We think about the idea of community building, who was the community created for? Right? Who feels like they can show up authentically? I think one of the things that we have to name is community looks, feels, and is experienced differently by different people. Even the three of us on this call right now, what community means to me and where I feel a sense of presence and community might be different than what it means for y’all. But is there a through line that we can share?
When I think about the things that bring people together, let's take The Courage Collective for example. All of us come from different backgrounds. All of us have different points of view, different experiences that inform how we show up in the world, but there's a shared set of values and even norms that we orient around. When I think about community building, I'm like, okay, well, what are the things that bring you all together? Yeah. It could mean and be expressed differently by different people, but what are these core ideas that bring you together? Is there space for that to look different? For example, if I say courage, that's one of the things that we gather around. What courage means to me might be different than one of my colleagues, but what's more salient is that it's a value that we share and we're committed to expressing that in our lives. I think what we see oftentimes within communities is like, it's only gathered around a certain couple of things that you agree upon and that everyone else is the other.
What I would say is like, what does it look like to create inclusive communities that are centered around a collection of values that could be expressed all kinds of different ways? I think in this particular climate, just the binary and polarizing nature of things, it feels hard to look at that nuance, oh, we can value the same thing but express it differently. Oh, that's a novel idea for so many folks. Right. That's one of the things that I would suggest is just starting, what are the core set of things that you share? Are you okay with those things being expressed differently? Are you creating your community and culture with unique identities in mind? Or is there one centered group, one particular group that the community is oriented or signed for? Those are a few initial thoughts I have.
Tony: Can you talk more about the centering? Because I think it's something that is ripe territory for people who are well-meaning but maybe able to be educated in a way that kind of empowers them better. You know, that there are probably a lot of folks that are engaging in centering without realizing they're doing it.
Daniel: Yeah. It's a good question, Tony. I think centering maybe simply put, it's to make someone's feelings, values, identities or norms the center or the focal point. Basically when something or someone is centered, everything else orients around it. Let's give a couple practical examples. When we think about the holiday calendar, for example, and this is one that's relevant for workplaces. Most businesses celebrate holidays that are commensurate with the Christian holiday, not good or bad, it's just the way that it is right now. And so if I am someone who doesn't identify as Christian and I have different holiday traditions, chances are I'll probably have to take PTO to celebrate my holiday. Whereas if I identified as such, it would be a holiday that's given to everyone. It's a super small and subtle example but pretty salient. I was in a call and talking with a gentleman whose faith tradition is Jewish. For him, he was like, yeah, I have to take a couple days of PTO to celebrate this holiday with my family. That's a really practical example of centering. But if we span out from there, let's think about makeup color options, bandaid options.
Like when we say nude colored band-aids, nude for who? Right. Skin colored band-aids for who? Who are the identities that are center when we think about being able-bodied, right? You go into certain work places. If you're able-body, you can get around relatively easily as opposed if you're disabled or you have a wheelchair, for example. Are you able to have the same level of accessibility? When we think about that as it relates to communities, let's say the question would be, what are the identities that are centered here? What are we orienting every single thing that we're doing here around? Then who then by proxy is pushed to the fringes or not welcome? It's not created with them in mind. And so as a byproduct, they're not feeling that sense of belonging that we would want. Centering, it's a simple but profound concept if you really dig into it, just to think about how it shows up at work, in our lives, in our communities, et cetera.
Tony: It seems like such a ripe space for opportunity just to, once you're noticing it, questioning it. Especially if you're a community organizer, if you're running an event, especially if you're running an event where you're trying to attract a large number of people or a large cross section of people. That's the takeaway I get, it's just such an opportunity.
Daniel: Yeah, 100 percent. I want to acknowledge that communities are often organized around a shared set of something, whether it's identities, values, pursuits, et cetera. That inherently has a self-selection element to it. If you have a community for entrepreneurs, if someone doesn't think of themselves as entrepreneurial, maybe they won't pursue the community. But within that subset of things that people have said like, yeah, I identify as whatever it might be and I'm a part of this community, that again looks very different based upon what the experiences are that people have had, historical context, et cetera. To your point, it's a major opportunity to say like, how can we make this accessible to the people that have said like, I want to be a part here. Also, how can we make it sticky? I think those are things for sure, major opportunity for community and growth.
Tony: I'm just going a bit further into it. Can you talk about that favorite graphic of mine from the training, the Wheel of Power/Privilege?
Daniel: Yeah. I think it's really interesting. Privilege is a concept that people would often bristle at. I think in the public discourse, there's a lot of reticence maybe to acknowledge what that means. But the wheel you're referring to is the wheel power and privilege and it just talks about based upon the different individual identity categories that we hold, certain ones come with a level of power and privilege, whereas others may not. I'll give you a personal example. For me, as a man, I have a certain level of privilege in society. Right? When I say privilege, it's things that are an unearned advantage. One of the things that we would look at is like, let's take the gender pay gap for example. Historically, men make more money than women. Again, we're just talking about the binaries. Although I know the identity is a spectrum so I want to name that.
But in this particular area, we look at that and we're like, okay, as a man, I have a certain level of privilege. Also, I'm a Black man. The first thing that you see when you see me isn't my background, my education, how much money I make, none of that stuff matters. What you see is me as a Black man. I think that when we look at power and privilege in certain spheres or certain areas, based upon how I identify, I have a level of power but then also certain things I might be further from the center and the center being the things in society that are prioritized or valued, invested in. I think everyone has a collection of those characteristics. Maybe you have higher socioeconomic status and also a disability. We have to think about intersectionality here, right?
Our identity doesn't exist in a vacuum. We're intersected by a collection of different identity categories. When we think about that, how does that show up and which ones give you advantages? Which ones maybe are less supported or invested in in society? Who is impacted by that? Those are a few questions that I would highlight. When we're thinking about our own identities, what are the ones that give you power and privilege versus what are some of the ones that may put you out of the centered group? Those are just things to consider.
Tony: In that dial, there are a bunch of them. Ones that I was very familiar with and ones that I was a little bit less familiar with or kind of tangentially familiar with and just kind of going around the dial for the listeners. We have citizenship, skin color, formal education, ability, sexuality, neurodiversity, mental health, body size, housing, wealth, language, and gender. I feel like we could do whole workshops just on how to redesign your event or your company or your onboarding process or whatever, just around these, and really just starting with the low hanging fruit.
Daniel: Yep. Yeah. I mean, it's a great point. I think one of the simple ways that I would highlight that is like the question, who sees themselves in your story? Right? Like, do I see myself in the story of the event that you designed, the community that you designed, the program that you designed, the website that you designed? Do I see myself in the story? Could I be a character there or no? To your point, Tony, I mean, I think with all of the things that we're putting into the world, we do those things with certain people in mind and who's included and who's left out. Those are all things that I think are particularly important to consider.
Tony: Just a question, I guess, as we look at those things and we think about how we can make adjustments, how we can do better. I just wonder what kind of guidance you might have to offer for folks who are thinking about how to approach this. I try to do my own research and I try to do my own outreach and not put that labor on somebody else. Maybe can you help me get a better handle on how to approach that in the best way?
Daniel: Sure. I would start with just acknowledging that growth looks different for everyone and everyone has room to grow. If that's our fundamental starting, like no matter how long you've been doing the work, no matter how long, whether you're a novice or you're an aficionado, whatever it might be, anywhere on that spectrum, we all have room to grow. I think committing to the process of learning and unlearn... I mean, I think that's just fundamental to the human experience. I think about, there's a quote that I like that's something along the lines like, "In times of change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully prepared for a world that no longer exists." And so when I think about that specifically, I'm like, I want to be someone who's continuing to learn and unlearn and challenge my own assumptions, perceptions, and do that level of self-inquiry.
I think if the fundamental catalyst is like, I want to continue that learning and growth, then I think another thing I would say is like empathy being central to that journey. I think whenever we're trying to do this work and thinking about it in the context of community, it's easy to feel shame and judgment. Shame about what you have or haven't done. Shame about what you do and don't have. Shame about where you come from or don't come from. Then judgment towards others who may or may not be where you want them to be. Those two things I think have kind of a debilitating effect on this work. And so grounding it in empathy, grounding it in courage, and to your point like, yeah, what is it that you can do? We maybe can't do everything, but I can do something. Like you said, instead of burning something at someone else, maybe I'll start and do my own research.
Maybe I will have conversations with people that are directly in my community. I mean, when we think about the ubiquitous nature of information through — I mean, we are consuming so much information all the time. What if we were just more intentional about some of the channels that we drew insight and information from? There's so many different things that you could go down there, but I think once you acknowledge, you'll have room to grow and learn. We ground that encourage and empathy in a way that supersedes shame and judgment. Then we are intentional about our own pursuits of that process. I think to your point earlier, doing it in community, it goes a long way.
Tony: Yeah. I feel like being able to release that shame is huge because in some way, a lot of us are going to feel that or be tempted to feel that. Or even just some sense of embarrassment. One of the things I've loved about what we've done in your sessions is just really felt like we've been getting educated while also feeling safe. Then that gives us a place to kind of step out and maybe get a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more honest about what's going on for us. Yeah. Highly recommend it.
Daniel: Awesome. I appreciate that. I think empathy is just a much more sustainable catalyst than shame, right? And so if we can ground some of that in empathy, I think it just goes a long way.
Tony: It's just a more effective strategy, right? If somebody gets put on the defensive, then they're going to dig in their heels. If you can avoid triggering somebody's defenses, then you're going to have a much better chance of being able to have them be receptive to something new.
Jillian: On the flip side of that, I think something we see, especially in digital communities. I think digital, internet conversations, it's a lot easier for people to say things they wouldn't say to someone's face. But I think there's something I'd like to talk about a little bit is just for those digital communities where you do have a higher risk of people going off and saying things, and maybe being a little more adventurous with what they're saying behind their keyboard. As a community manager, as a community leader, when those things happen, it seems like a lot of the times those people are coming from that place of fear. They're not coming from empathy. They feel scared.
Thankfully, a paid entrepreneurial community that I run now, there's not a lot of fighting. It's quite refreshing, but I've certainly managed other communities where fighting was just a huge part of it and having like deescalation strategies was a big thing. You know, we all have to meet people where they are and we have to lead by example with empathy and openness and kindness, but sometimes you just get one person who will not listen and they're angry and they feel their rights are being violated. They're just in this chaotic tailspin. Do you have a magic wand? Do you have any sort of advice?
Daniel: I would wave it on society right now. I'd wave that.
Jillian: Be nice.
Daniel: Yeah. It's a great question and great thought. I mean, I think frankly, it's just part of the human experience, right? Just the complexities of that. I think it'd be naive to pretend that discourse and even disagreement and some of those challenges aren't... When you bring in people who have wildly different beliefs and experiences, et cetera, that's just part of what happens. A few things that we try to do on our end is we always try to set like, what are the norms? Let's say either community norms or ways of working that we are agreeing to, and not just the terms and condition that no one reads and clicks accept. Right? But what are the norms that we're all orienting to as a community? Basically that informing how we want to treat one another.
I think, one, that has to be established. Two, it has to be model, right? I think that once we establish our way of being that we want, like how are we modeling it and reinforcing the behavior that we do want to see and celebrating that. I think as that becomes like that permeates the group and the consciousness, it becomes very apparent when someone isn't aligned to what's happening there. I think once people have agreed to a set of norms, then to me it's more about accountability, right? This is what we said how we want to come into the space. Also, the behaviors that are being exhibited don't align. Help me understand what's happening. I think curiosity is a great tool because I think sometimes beyond the raging that people do, there's just pain and sadness and fear exactly like you said. I think getting curious about what's actually happening beyond the defense mechanisms, beyond the defensiveness, all of that.
What's actually happening under the surface and creating space for someone to share that. I think at the end of the day, as a community manager, you're responsible for the experience that people have when they come into your space, right? That's part of why you're in the seat. I would say, what are the norms? Are they being modeled? Are they being reinforced? Then if someone is behaving in a way that doesn't align with the norms, how can you one, hold up a mirror, hey, this is what you agreed to and these behaviors are being exhibited. Help me understand what's happening. Then, is there a meaningful path forward? Thinking about this in the context of performance review sometimes. This is what is expected as it relates to your seat in this company, here's what's happening, there's dissonance, let's talk about it.
I think that part of it could be maybe there's a meaningful path forward where they see that they want to change and evolve and then maybe there's not. I think that part of that is like, when you can hold up just what people have agreed to and then also what are the behaviors that are being exhibited, then you can have a more honest conversation about it, right? As opposed to it's coded in subjective language and my own perceptions and biases. That's why I think curiosity is huge. I can tell you about you or I can ask you about you. Tony, tell me what's going on. Or Jillian, tell me what's going on. This is how I've observed it, but I don't need to interpret that and make that absolute truth. I can invite you into a dialogue about that. The last thing I'll say, sometimes it just takes a heck of a lot of energy.
To your point, when you're managing a community of hundreds, thousands, global community, you have to be honest about your own capacity. Does the situation feel like there's space for repai] or no? Right? I think giving yourself the grace to make that decision and feel empowered to make a decision in the best interest of your community as well.
Jillian: It's so interesting you said that, because I was recently working with someone who has a community and that's part of their greater business. They're not like me where it's like, this is my profession. One of my favorite parts of my job is I get to help a lot of business owners who have launched communities do stuff. I'm like, oh, this is my wheelhouse. I feel like I can contribute. But yeah, they had a disruptive person in their community and it was almost... I mean, I told them. I was like, you can remove them, it's your community. If you've warned them and they're still, and it's creating a problem in your greater community, it's okay. It was almost just like that permission to be like, yeah, it's my community. They're being disruptive. They don't listen to feedback. We've been through it.
It's funny because I think a lot of people, we want resolution, you know? And so we will make ourselves miserable. Sometimes even make situations worse because we're fighting so hard to get everyone to agree, get along. There's a point, there's a line in the sand where it's like for the health of your greater community, you need to boot somebody or whatever it is. It's okay. It's okay. Because you know, stepping back, it's the grand scheme of what's the purpose of this community. Is this thing that keeps happening, is it ruining that? Which often, sadly, one person can do. You know?
Daniel: Yeah. I think sometimes it feels like people hold on longer because it feels like it's a reflection on them and their ability or inability. I'm like, everyone has their own choices to make, right? People, the way that you show up in a space is largely up to you. You have efficacy in that. Right. Thinking about the community management role, it's not to try to superimpose or change someone's behavior. That's not why you're there. You're creating an experience for a collective and that's your responsibility, and opportunity. Even beyond responsibilities and opportunity, in the same way that we wanted to create a meaningful, intentional space for y’all as we've done these sessions, that's where our attention and focus is. I think the community managers can do the same thing.
Jillian: Absolutely. Something you do I wanted to mention. In those get togethers, those training sessions we have at the, you know, Tony was alluding to this earlier. But at the top of the meeting, you share your screen and there's you reinforce. Like this is a safe space. It's okay to be vulnerable. We're not here to judge each other. There're are guidelines outlined, and that — I think it's really important for any community leader or organizer, whatever you're working in to do that, to set the intention, set the tone and just really reinforce that it's what kind of space it is and what the expectations are. Then it allows people to meet each other where they are but with a sense of respect that maybe otherwise wouldn't be top of mind, if that makes sense.
Daniel: Yeah. I think it sets an intention for the group, but then it also gives you something to hold people accountable to. If you never put that in front of them, then they don't know how they're supposed to behave. And so how do they know if they're not behaving in a way that's aligned? Yeah. Multifaceted there for sure.
Jillian: Well, and there's so many spaces that people interact online specifically. You might join one community and think you act the same way you would on Facebook or in a social media or whatever, or even Reddit. I'm always talking about Reddit because I love Reddit. It's like check the room before you interact.
I'm not sure everybody does that, that digital communities are still new enough and so much spun off of social media that a lot of people are still figuring out how to interact in those spaces. The more we as community leaders can, like you said, model the behavior, but also just put it out there like it's on the wall, right? Like this is what we do here. You're so welcome. But if it's not for you, I bet you there's a hundred other communities that are similar that might be more your style.
Daniel: Yeah. That's what I've had to accept. I think when you're just relating to people from all different walks of life and backgrounds, while the community is available to everyone, it's not for everyone. It's okay. That's a tension that I can accept. I want to show up in a way that feels authentic. I also understand that certain things resonate differently with different people. There's a reason why there are bazillion flavors of ice cream, because not everyone likes chocolate chip cookie dough. I think that's the same with communities as well. Right. Thinking about, it's okay if it's not for everyone, there's probably something out there for them and not to hold on to them out of fear. What if you just continue to curate and be intentional about what are the values, what are the norms, and how do we organize people around that?
Jillian: Absolutely. I think there's a slippery slope with trying to create a community that is for everybody, kumbaya kind of situation because those are the ones that often have a lot of fighting, right? Because you're bringing a lot of different people in, but there's also on the flip side of that, there's a fine line between having an inclusive community that turns exclusive in a way. I do think there are some spaces that maybe not all of us belong and that's okay, but it can get real dangerous real fast. Because all of a sudden that can turn into some, like a hate group. Right? I don't know. I mean, we've just got a few minutes. Do you have any insider ideas for people who are trying to figure that out? They want to have it niched to a certain level, but then it's like dancing the line of you want to be inclusive without being exclusive, if that makes sense. You know what I mean?
Daniel: Yeah. I think about it through the lens of entrepreneurship. Like, who is your customer and what is your value proposition to that customer? I think if you've created something of value for your constituent or for your customer, it'll resonate with them. If you haven't, then it won't. Right? I think, what is the core value of your community? For me, I would probably hone in more on what are you creating and who are you creating it for. Then who are some of the additional beneficiaries or people who could participate in that. Right. Understanding, again, when you organize around values, values can be expressed a number of different ways and look very different depending on the person. I would go back to, let's think about the core essence here. What is it that we're trying to do and bring together? Who are we creating this with like in mind? Then what are some of the norms that we're organizing around?
I think again, when you're clear on your value proposition and even your vision and mission and even customer, it really does have a self-selection agency. I respect people who are in the equestrian community, but I am not getting on a horse. To each their own. I think there are things like that that you can have value for but not also participate in. When the value proposition is clear, I think people can say, like, I'm interested in that and I want to try it out. Maybe it's for me, maybe it's not.
Jillian: You picked that real quick. Is there a story there about trying to-
Daniel: No. Probably skiing too. What do I not do that people are hardcore about? Some people like skiing or riding horses. I support you. Do your thing, live your best life. I will not be there. You can send me pictures but I will not be there.
Jillian: I will say, if you ever decide you want to try skiing or you just want to come to the appre afterwards and have like a cocktail, you're more than welcome. You can enjoy the mountain on your own terms. I promise you. You don't have to actually ski.
Daniel: I love that. Totally. I had two knee injuries and so I'm like, there's no double down in black that's worth another nine months of reconstruction.
Jillian: I think that's a good place to wrap it. We do a rapid fire questioning. Did I give you a heads up on this?
Daniel: I don't think so but I'm with it.
Jillian: I don't think so. Surprise. Don't worry, there's no wrong answers. It's all fun. Daniel, when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Daniel: Athlete. No question.
Jillian: You did it.
Daniel: Kind of. I played sports in college a little bit, but like I said, I had a couple knee injuries. Pretty anticlimactic sports career, if I'm honest, but I still love the game. I wanted to be an athlete. No question.
Jillian: That never crossed my mind as a child. How do you define community?
Daniel: How do I define community? I would say interconnectedness, being seen, feeling known.
Jillian: Think about your bucket list. Is there anything on your bucket list that you have done?
Daniel: Good question. I went to Europe maybe a couple years back, which was a lot of fun. I had plans pre-COVID that were largely disrupted, but yeah, I'd say continued travel was always the most for me.
Jillian: Yeah. Where did you go in Europe?
Daniel: I went to London and Amsterdam.
Jillian: Oh, fun. I love London so much. I haven't been to Amsterdam.
Daniel: Yeah. Great cities.
Jillian: Yeah, I could live in London for a little while maybe, someday. Retirement goals.
Daniel: I hear you.
Jillian: On the flip side, what's something that's on your bucket list that you have not done but that you want to?
Daniel: Let's see. It's hard to say right now. I'm like an experience seeker, right? I think it just depends on where I am. I don't have anything off the top of my head on my bucket list that I haven't done because I'm just putting some intention. I do have, I mean, travel is probably pretty general and vague, but that's probably top of mind for me because I have a few things that I want to do as far as that's concerned. I had to cancel a couple of trips last year, so that's probably ...
Jillian: I like it. Your whole bucket is travel. You have a travel bucket—
Daniel: Yeah. Right now, it is. I think so.
Jillian: Yeah. That's great though. Travel is the best. Okay. Is there a book that you've recently read or are reading that you just think is amazing and you think everyone should read?
Daniel: I love Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It's almost memoir-esque but he writes a letter to his son essentially just through the lens of the black experience. I thought that was a pretty powerful book. Liked that one a lot. Think Again by Adam Grant is also a pretty good book about challenging our assumptions, points of view. Big fan of Brené Brown's work as well. Anything by her. Then Glennon Doyle's book. Fan of that one as well. I have a collection. I'm currently reading Clinton’s How the Word Is Passed. It looks at the history of the black experience in America.
Jillian: Those all sound great. Courage Collective should start a book club.
Daniel: Maybe we should. I can send you, we have a whole resource guide so I can send you some of the information about it.
Jillian: Totally. Yeah. That'd be great. I'm always looking for good books. Okay. If you could live anywhere else in the world, this will be interesting because you love to travel, but if you could live anywhere else in the world besides where you live now, where would that be?
Daniel: I love Vancouver, BC. Favorite city of mine. Really love London when I went. Where else? I think part of it is I would have to have experiences. I've never been Australia and so I'm super interested in going there. Part of the reason, I have this flexible lease thing to this company called Landing, and so it allows me to live in any city for however long. Home base is probably, I mean, I spent a decent chunk of time in Nashville but kind of just pop around periodic. I'm in Seattle today.
Jillian: That's really cool.
Daniel: Yeah. It's a pretty good setup.
Jillian: Nice. That's very cool. Final question. Daniel, how do you want to be remembered?
Daniel: I think I would go back to the statement that I said earlier, if the people that I'm with and that I spend my energy on would say that I created a life I loved and together we built things we believed in, or I built things I believed in with people I enjoy that impacted and moved the world, that's how I want... And just as someone who cared.
Jillian: That's amazing. Well, thank you so much. We really appreciated having you on. I look forward to the continued work we do with team SPI. Daniel, where can people find you on the interwebs?
Daniel: Yeah, easiest place, TheCourageCollective.co. That's our website. You can also find us on LinkedIn. Those are probably the two primary places. Yeah, it's where I would start.
Jillian: All right. Thanks so much.
Tony: All right. A conversation with Daniel from The Courage Collective. Really, really valuable, so useful, so helpful in terms of us being able to build communities for the future.
Jillian: Yeah. I mean, Daniel is just so fun to talk to. He just has a wealth of information and I love everything his team is doing. It's just so cool. Definitely check them out, The Courage Collective on the interwebs.
Tony: Well, my mind was blown by just the succinctness and the language of the difference between all are welcome here versus this was created with you in mind. I just feel like I could chew on that sentence for hours and thinking, just thinking in terms of when you're creating something, it's really easy to say everybody's welcome here. You can buy a sticker that says it and throw that language on your site. But if you're aspiring to this was created with you in mind, it flips things over and shows that there's intent. It shows that you have actually thought about who all is and the ways that different people might have different needs or different desires or different ways of interacting. I love that. I love thinking in terms of aspiring to have my events and my communities be more of that latter thing.
Jillian: Yeah. I want to get it tattooed on my forehead. It's just the perfect way to think when you're building community, when you're trying to create events, especially if you feel like, maybe it's not working the way you expect it. Really to audit and take a step back outside of your own personal experience lens.
Tony: Exactly, exactly. Which leads to the centering, which I think is so valuable to be aware of. Is just to ask yourself, in what way am I centering a identity, a piece of that wheel that I might not be realizing?
Jillian: Yeah, absolutely. We talk a lot, if you follow Pat Flynn, one of his slogans, one of his sayings is the riches are in the niches. But there's a fine line between niching down to the point of being like exclusive kind of in a bad way versus niching down but having a strong focus, but also being very inclusive and safe. I think a lot of us in the white, straight, cis-heteronormative, whatever term you want to use, it's very easy for us in particular to forget that not everybody just feels safe in the system or the ways that seem normal to us. It's really important to talk to your community and to ensure if you have members who maybe aren't being as engaged as you thought, just to check in and make sure they feel safe. That's a huge part. If people don't feel safe, they're not going to interact. They might not hang out. They might not stick around.
Creating a place where people feel safe and they know what to do when they don't. They know who to talk to, they know what actions they can take if they're feeling unsafe is just such a huge part of community management and a reason why we have guidelines and policies in place. This is a really great conversation we had with Daniel about the bigger picture of this. Just as all the community managers out there know, this is why we have community guidelines.
Tony: Absolutely. You brought up an important takeaway, which is talk to people, be proactive about involving people who have perspective that you don't. I know that just for example, when I was putting up the site for the Audience Driven Summit, I had posted in SPI Pro privately to people to get their feedback.
One person commented about how there was one section that was actually very hard to read for folks who are color blind or had issues with contrast. And so I was able to fix that, that piece of the site before we blasted out an email to hundreds of thousands of people. That probably hopefully made for a slightly better experience for folks. Those kinds of things I think, just involving people early on proactively lays a foundation for creating a much more inclusive experience for everybody from then on.
Jillian: Absolutely. That kind of takes us to the point, like when you do get feedback, when there is criticism, maybe about something you've built or something you've said. It is so important to lead with empathy. It's so important to be curious and to learn more and understand where someone's coming from, especially if whatever they say kind of immediately gets your defenses up. You start getting that sense where you're like, oh, they're going to go here, wherever here is. That's community, you know. It's not the destination, it's the journey. And so every step along the way that you can do it in a way that is a loving, we're all in this together. Certainly, boot the trolls, boot the people that are there to stir trouble. I'm not saying try to make harmony with chaos or with toxicity. Have very clear guidelines that you can use, but always come from a place of kindness and empathy.
Tony: It's something that I think is so, so important right now, right? We know that we are just going through this massive crisis as a society where there's all this divisiveness, all this toxicity. But what you will see is that two people who might be hurling internet insult bombs at each other on the internet can be perfectly amicable in the right context, in a community setting. I think that starts to weave the fabric that we need to be able to wake up a little bit and get off of the internet and stop flaming each other so hard.
Jillian: Totally. You just got to hit him over the head with kindness. I want to just recognize, Tony and I are both white people, white, straight people. I think. I guess I've never asked Tony.
Tony: We haven't discussed it, but yeah.
Jillian: I'm just generalizing. If you identify differently than us and you're like, so you're telling me I should just take patriarchal or like white supremacy and just roll with it and be kind? Not saying that at all. Please don't ever think that either one of us want anyone to be in an unsafe situation. That can be a swift kick out the door to somebody but you can do it kindly.
Jillian: You don't have to cuss them out first.
Tony: Exactly. You can be kind even as you are defending the values of your community and modeling certain behaviors. Yes. They're together. Absolutely.
Jillian: And if you are someone like myself, tons of white privilege, you can use your voice to help keep it safe for people who might be getting comments and behaviors that are unacceptable that maybe they wouldn't do to you. You can always be an ally to help people feel safe and that's a beautiful thing.
Without further ado, I think we'll end it there. We really appreciate everybody listening. Get in on the conversation on Twitter @TeamSPI. Tony and I are there to continue the conversation on how can you look at DEI in the sense of in your community? It's a big thing and let's talk about it.
Tony: Yeah. I want to hear what you've learned, what you're excited about, what you want to change, what you think you might be able to change, what adjustments you might be able to make. Share it up with us, and ...
Jillian: See you next Tuesday.
Tony: This has been the Community Experience. For more information on this episode including links and show notes, head over to SmartPassiveIncome.com/listen.
Jillian: Learn more about Daniel and the great work he's doing at TheCourageCollective.co.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound design by Duncan Brown. Music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.
Want more from SPI?
Enter your information below if you'd like to join our newsletter!